by John Hawkins | March 27, 2003 7:31 pm
An Anti-War Minister Who Went To Iraq And Changed His Mind: This editorial written by minister Ken Joseph Jr of Tokyo was so powerful that I just had to post excerpts from it. If you have any friends who claim to care about the Iraqi people and yet don’t want us to liberate them, show them this and it just may change their mind…
…I am an Assyrian…As a minister and due to my personal convictions I have always been against war for any and all reasons. It was precisely this moral conviction that led me to do all I could to stop the current war in Iraq.
From participating in demonstrations against the war in Japan to strongly opposing it on my radio program, on television and in regular columns I did my best to stand against what I thought to be an unjust war against an innocent people – in fact my people.
…It was with that feeling, together with supplies for our Church and family that I went to Iraq to do all I could to help make a difference.
The feeling as I crossed the border was exhilarating – `home at last` thought as I would for the first time visit the land of my forefathers.
…The first order of business was to attend Church. It was here where my morals were raked over the coals and I was first forced to examine them in the harsh light of reality.
Following a beautiful `Peace` to welcome the Peace Activists in which even the children participated we moved to the next room to have a simple meal.
Sitting next to me was an older man who carefully began to sound me out. Apparently feeling the freedom to talk in the midst of the mingling crowd he suddenly turned to me and said `There is something you should know.` `What` I asked surprised at the sudden comment.
`We didn’t want to be here tonight`. he continued. `When the Priest asked us to gather for a Peace Service we said we didn’t want to come`. He said.
`What do you mean` I inquired, confused. `We didn’t want to come because we don’t want peace` he replied.
`What in the world do you mean?` I asked. `How could you not want peace?` `We don’t want peace. We want the war to come` he continued.
What in the world are you talking about? I blurted back.
That was the beginning of a strange odyssey that deeply shattered my convictions and moral base but at the same time gave me hope for my people and, in fact, hope for the world.
Beginning that night and continuing on in the private homes of relatives with whom I stayed little by little the scales began to come off my eyes.
…Simply put, those living in Iraq, the common, regular people are in a living nightmare. From the terror that would come across the faces of my family at a unknown visitor, telephone call, knock at the door I began to realize the horror they lived with every day.
Over and over I questioned them `Why could you want war? Why could any human being desire war?` They’re answer was quiet and measured. `Look at our lives!`We are living like animals. No food, no car, no telephone, no job and most of all no hope.`
I would marvel as my family went around their daily routine as normal as could be. Baghdad was completely serene without even a hint of war. Father would get up, have his breakfast and go off to work. The children to school, the old people – ten in the household to their daily chores.
`You can not imagine what it is to live with war for 20, 30 years. We have to keep up our routine or we would lose our minds`
Then I began to see around me those seemingly in every household who had lost their minds. It seemed in every household there was one or more people who in any other society would be in a Mental Hospital and the ever present picture of a family member killed in one of the many wars.
…I wept with family members as I shared their pain and with great difficulty and deep soul searching began little by little to understand their desire for war to finally rid them of the nightmare they were living in.
The terrible price paid in simple, down to earth ways – the family member with a son who just screams all the time, the family member who lost his wife who left unable to cope anymore, the family member going to a daily job with nothing to do, the family member with a son lost to the war, a husband lost to alcoholism the daily, difficult to perceive slow death of people for whom all hope is lost.
The pictures of Sadaam Hussein whom people hailed in the beginning with great hope everywhere. Sadaam Hussein with his hand outstretched. Sadaam Hussein firing his rifle. Sadaam Hussein in his Arab Headdress. Sadaam Hussein in his classic 30 year old picture – one or more of these four pictures seemed to be everywhere on walls, in the middle of the road, in homes, as statues – he was everywhere!
All seeing, all knowing, all encompassing.
`Life is hell. We have no hope. But everything will be ok once the war is over.` The bizarre desire for a war that would rid them of the hopelessness was at best hard to understand.
`Look at it this way. No matter how bad it is we will not all die. We have hoped for some other way but nothing has worked. 12 years ago it went almost all the way but failed. We cannot wait anymore. We want the war and we want it now`
Coming back to family members and telling them of progress in the talks at the United Nations on working some sort of compromise with Iraq I was welcomed not with joy but anger. `No, there is no other way! We want the war! It is the only way he will get out of our lives`
…Then I began to feel so terrible. Here I had been demonstrating against the war thinking I had been doing it for the very people I was here now with and yet I had not ever bothered to ask them what they wanted. What they wanted me to do.
…With tears streaming down my face in my bed in a tiny house in Baghdad crowded in with 10 other of my own flesh and blood, all exhausted after another day of not living but existing without hope, exhausted in daily struggle simply to not die I had to say to myself `I was wrong`.
How dare I claim to speak for those for whom I had never asked what they wanted!
…Wanting to make sure I was not simply getting the feelings of a long oppressed minority – the Assyrians – I spoke to dozens of people. What I was not prepared for was the sheer terror they felt at speaking out. Over and over again I would be told `We would be killed for speaking like this` and finding out that they would only speak in a private home or where they were absolutely sure through the introduction of another Iraqi that I was not being attended by a minder.
From a former member of the Army to a person working with the police to taxi drivers to store owners to mothers to government officials without exception when allowed to speak freely the message was the same – `Please bring on the war. We are ready. We have suffered long enough. We may lose our lives but some of us will survive and for our children’s sake please,, please end our misery.
On the final day for the first time I saw the signs of war. For the first time sandbags began appearing at various government buildings but the solders putting them up and then later standing within the small circle they created gave a clear message they could not dare speak.
They hated it. They despised it. It was their job and they made clear in the way they worked to the common people watching that they were on their side and would not fight.
…But what of their feelings towards the United States and Britain? Those feelings are clearly mixed. They have no love for the British or the Americans but they trust them.
`We are not afraid of the American bombing. They will bomb carefully and not purposely target the people. What we are afraid of is Saddam Hussein and what he and the Baath Party will do when the war begins. But even then we want the war. It is the only way to escape our hell. Please tell them to hurry. We have been through war so many times, but this time it will give us hope`.
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